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Mike Rother

Rob Austin: What advice can lean offer about breaking the dysfunctional cycle of “fire fighting”? How do you shift the focus from urgent rework to systematic improvement?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Thursday, February 25, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

I know of a service delivery organization plagued by administrative difficulties. Many service requests are mishandled. People within the organization who handle things effectively become known, and then everyone
goes to them for help, which causes them to become overwhelmed; usually they either burnout and quit (or move to another job), or they become ineffective as a result of being overwhelmed. The reward for doing good work is that you get buried by an overwhelming volume of additional service requests.

One problem this organization has is that its people don’t have a habit of making problems visible. When you point out a systematic problem, they diagnose it as a one off, in part so they can avoid embarrassing anyone, and in part so can quickly get back to their backlog of work that urgently awaits their attention. A big part of the problem is that they want to reassure themselves that things are not all that bad, so they never really spend time on systematic improvements, and things don’t get better. Thus, the larger problem is that there seems to be no time for improvement activities, and no incentive to identify problems that deserve systematic attention, because they are so busy dealing with the overwhelming demand for services, a large part of which is fixing things that were mishandled the first time through (rework).

What advice can lean offer about breaking this dysfunctional cycle? That is, in a situation that is already seriously degraded, so that every spare bit of effort is devoted to fire fighting, how do you shift the focus from urgent rework to systematic improvement?”

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